Book lovers and bargain hunters will descend on the Redding Community Center on Labor Day weekend to pick through more than 60,000 books in 75 categories, and hundreds of DVDs, CDs, vinyl LPs and laser discs that comprise the 55th Annual Mark Twain Library Book Fair, one of the oldest and largest book sales in New England.
The event kicks off Friday, Sept. 4, at 9 am. During the first hour only there is a $15 admission charge and tickets for that hour will be available starting at 7 a.m. Entry after 10 a.m. is free. There will also be a special afterschool children’s event that afternoon from 2:30 to closing at 6. On Saturday and Sunday, the fair will be open from 10 to 4, with Sunday being half-price day. On Monday, Labor Day, it will operate from 9 to 4, and it is “Boxing Day”: remaining items will be sold for $10 a box. The full price for the majority of the books on offer will be $2 to $12, specialized books and sets priced higher; the LPs will be $1 each.
The fun of library book sales, both for the volunteers putting the sales together and the patrons who support them, is the surprises, the never knowing what will be found in the donation boxes or on the sales tables. And every year, someone seems to make a major donation that delights everyone involved. This year, the major donation came from artist Judith Dolnick, wife of the late abstract artist Robert Natkin, who died in 2010, and whose paintings are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
Having recently sold the couple’s longtime Redding home, Dolnick invited representatives of the nearby library to “come take whatever you want” from their collection of books, built up over more than a half century.
“We had no idea the collection would come to us, nor what was in it,” said Robert Morton, a longtime library volunteer and an editor and publisher of art and other illustration books for 50 years who oversees the pricing of art, photography, architecture and related books for the library’s book fairs. “It was an enormously open-handed donation,” he continued. “A group of us went there and left with about 80 boxes of books, totaling 1,000 to 1,200 volumes. We brought them up to the meeting room [the original library] and spent two weeks sorting and pricing them.”
In addition to the art books, the collection included a wide variety on religion and philosophy, gardening and decorative arts, cooking and wine, celebrity and artist biographies, and poetry and essays. Among the artist subjects were multiple books on Klimt, Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Diebenkorn, O’Keeffe and Sendak. Some of the rare books will be offered in the fair’s Collectors Corner; the art and related books will be in the room overseen by Morton and the balance scattered among their respective categories.
Asked if he was surprised by anything in particular, Morton replied, “The number of books on Paul Klee; Bob had a deep fascination for his work; Klee was an early abstractionist with a delicate line and subtle color and you can see his influence in Bob’s work. He also had a number of books on the arts of other cultures, especially Japanese and pre-Columbian.
“I was also surprised to discover Bob had a personal relationship with Sister Wendy, who had a British TV program on the history of art in the 1990s, and was shown here on PBS. He had a number of books signed by her.”
Jeanne Wendschuh, who is co-chairing this year’s book fair along with Ginny Beasley and Midge Loery, calls the fair “a wonderful treasure hunt; you never know what you’re going to find.” In addition to the Dolnick-Natkin collection, a couple of this year’s special donations include “a collection of books on baseball and baseball players that will take up more than a full table and three boxes of laser discs, at least 75, which came out before DVDs. It’s a gold mine for anyone with a laser player.”
She added, “We have a tremendous amount of cook books — that is probably the largest category — as well as books on education, including teachers’ guides and materials for the classroom. Stretch your classroom dollars to the max! And lots of children’s books, including a group of beautifully illustrated ones from the mid-40s to 1985, very reasonably priced, and puzzles and games too.”
All proceeds benefit the Mark Twain Library, which is owned by the Mark Twain Library Association. The library was founded by Samuel Clemens — Mark Twain, himself — in 1908. Twain moved to Redding in 1907 and had more books than would fit in his new home. He donated more than 1,000 titles to help get the library started, and required his guests to pay fees that helped support the fledgling enterprise. He later donated the building on the corner of Route 53 and Diamond Hill Road that served as the library’s permanent home and today serves as the meeting room of the expanded library. Upon his death, his daughter Clara donated more of his books for sale to build on his legacy in Redding. Today, the book fair is one of the library’s principal fundraisers.
Refreshments from Uncle Leo’s of Georgetown will be available for sale, there is plenty of free parking, and credit cards are welcomed.
The Redding Community Center is at 37 Lonetown Road (Route 107), behind Redding Elementary School.
For more information, visit marktwainlibrary.org or call 203-938-2545.